Never Vacation With An Ashmore
HIGH The ballroom scene.
LOW I can’t skip old dialogue and cutscenes when replaying the game?
WTF Dear god, he’s been watching me this whole time!
Man of Medan is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to review for one simple reason — I absolutely can’t explain why it must be played. This is a thrilling, terrifying, genre-redefining experience that absolutely needs to be experienced by as many people as possible, but how can I get that across without spoiling the huge surprises integral to its masterful accomplishments?
How can I convince anyone to play without explaining what makes it so special?
I’ll start by laying out the facts — Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is the first entry in Supermassive Games’ new anthology of interactive horror movies. Clocking in at around four hours, it’s less than half of Until Dawn‘s length, but it’s a huge improvement on its predecessor in every way.
The story opens with a flashback to 1947, giving players a glimpse of horror that befell a US Army transport ship while also explaining how it wound up on a Pacific shallow so that an intrepid group of twentysomethings could stumble across it on a wreck-diving trip.
Players then spend around an hour getting to know the cast during the calm before the literal storm that kicks off Medan‘s horrific second act. Once that’s over, things shift into nonstop dread and terror, jumping from eerie exploration to QTE-focused action scenes and split-second conversational decisions that have life-and-death stakes backing them up. Like Until Dawn, it’s an interactive movie with all of the railroading that suggests, but it’s an unusually well-structured one.
It doesn’t offer a huge cast — there are just five playable characters — but it manages its running time far better than Dawn did, and it moves incredibly quickly. Depending on the decisions they make, the relationships between the characters, and how good they are at QTEs, players can see a huge amount of variety in which characters appear in which scenes.
I played Medan multiple times, and during each run the setpieces played out with different characters involved — the developers have gone the extra mile to ensure that everyone can play a meaningful role in the proceedings. As further proof, one of the characters can duck out of the story right at the start, and it’s to Medan‘s credit that it doesn’t feel like they’re missing. That version of the story feels as fully-realized and satisfying as the one where that same person sticks around.
The writing and performances are top-notch this time. There are a couple of story hitches here and there — the writers don’t seem to know how radios, international law, or the US government works — but minor plotholes can’t take away from how well-done the character work is.
Rather than making the mistake they did with Until Dawn and featuring awful people sniping at each other, Medan‘s characters are likeable and relatable, and it’s easy to be on their side, rather than rooting for their deaths. No longer did I feel tricked into helping loathsome people survive thanks to gaming instincts that told me to win — this time I was genuinely invested in the survival of these people, which made it all the more heartbreaking every time I made a crucial error.
At this point I’ve now reached the difficult part of the review, where I talk about Man of Medan‘s best feature. It’s the thing that breaks the genre wide open, and catapults it to the top of the interactive movie genre — multiplayer.
Yes, I’m aware that the idea of a multiplayer interactive movie seems absurd on its face — multiplayer horror almost never works, but Supermassive has cracked it. They’ve come up with a story that’s so perfect for multiplayer that I find myself wondering how they can possibly top this with their next installment, if they even try.
I’m rarely one to talk about the ‘right way’ to play a videogame, but there’s a reason the top option on the starting menu is ‘Don’t Play Alone’ — it’s not a description, it’s an instruction. While Man of Medan can be played in the clever ‘movie night’ mode with up to five players on a couch, the real highlight here is the co-op. Played over an internet connection, Medan works best if players don’t use voice chat to communicate.
Medan‘s story frequently splits its characters up and counts on a realistic lack of communication between the players for the best possible experience. If players focus on role-playing their characters rather than simply ‘winning’ the game, Medan goes from a great horror game to a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that has to be played to be believed. The devs have thought of everything here, as there’s no danger of one player being frustrated with nothing to do — the pace is timed perfectly so that invisible time limits constantly pull participants together (and push them apart) when they least expect it, resulting in some truly stunning moments.
When played the way the developers intended, Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is a one-of-a-kind triumph, and a shared horror experience unlike anything ever produced. It’s extremely presumptuous to ask players to buy two copies to get the full effect, but I can’t deny that it’s absolutely worth the time and expense for those who do. Dark Pictures: Man of Medan is a true evolution of the interactive movie genre, and horror fans owe it to themselves to climb aboard.
Disclosures: This game is developed by SuperMassive Games and published by Bandai-Namco. It is currently available on PC, XBO and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 4 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood,
Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language, and Suggestive Themes. Brutal violence, sexually suggestive dialogue, people getting drunk… It’s all here. All that’s missing is to add in some cigarettes and a topless lady to make this the most severe ESRB warning of all time. As it is, Medan should be kept as far from kids as possible. As for teens — if they’re old enough to watch slasher movies, this isn’t any rougher than something they’d see on the big screen.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully subtitled, and I encountered no necessary audio cues. Subtitles cannot be resized, but players can turn on a mode where each character has a different color to make differentiation simple.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls. In addition, it has some wonderful accessibility options — players can hold down buttons instead of mashing them, and players who have difficulty with QTEs can enable a feature that turns off the time limits. They’ll only have to worry about hitting the correct button. One warning, though — to preserve game flow, the time limit cannot be turned off in co-op mode, only in single-player.
Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!
So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.
In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!
If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!